Thursday, 9 October 2014

My Experience with Homosexuality and the Bible

While my family subscribed to the classic Christian “hate the sin, not the sinner” approach, I often felt that, in practice, it was more about hating those you don’t understand, but making sure to accept yourself and those you get along with.
My parents had felt the guilt of their conservative upbringing, with their parents telling them that they would go blind from masturbation, and that getting pregnant out of wedlock meant shame upon the family. So my siblings and I were told masturbation was healthy, and if we impregnated someone or became pregnant ourselves, an open and honest approach would not warrant any scorn.
But homosexuality, we were told that was just gross.
As I got older, this line of thinking became more difficult to understand. When I was 15, I moved to a new school in a small town with people who lived different from my urban way of life. I was ridiculed and picked on everyday, and would often be physically beaten if I tried attending a party or waited too long to get on the bus after school. The only person who ever seemed to stand up for me was my friend David who, I would learn a few years later, was gay.
That same year, after working out at the YMCA, a fellow in his early 20s was in the open shower area with me and waited until everyone had left before he proceeded to stick his erection in my face and asked me if I “liked” what I saw. I said nothing and headed to the lockers where I knew people would be, and put my clothes on.
What he did was not right but I never felt I could judge him. I had been trying to convince my own girlfriend at the time to have sex with me, and I myself would often cross the line of appropriate seduction, if there is such a thing.
A few years later I was talking to David and he was telling me how he had become disgusted with his lifestyle. “One night stand after one night stand” was tearing out his soul, he suggested. He envied his friends in committed relationships and decided that he was going to commit himself toward monogamy, and relationships based on depth and caring.
He inspired me to do the same as well.
It is incredibly difficult to get a firm black and white position on how we should view homosexuality from a Biblical perspective. Some quote Hebrew texts like Leviticus, which suggest homosexuality is a violation against God, but also claim it is a violation to plant two different seeds together, and a violation to use certain fabrics together in the making of clothes.
Others quote one of the three New Testament references to the abomination of homosexuality, amongst the 7956 verses. Many scholars argue that the “homosexuality” talked about in the first-century culture of the early Jesus followers was actually child abuse, where middle-aged adults would be permitted to force themselves upon preteens.
While I don’t think the Bible supports homosexuality, I am not convinced it should be used to condemn others.
Jesus maintained a strong position on traditional marriage while choosing to remain silent on the issue of homosexuality in a culture where it certainly existed. Today Pope Francis is following a similar path. Let us not allow our religious convictions to keep us from taking a clear stance of non-judgement. Let us not become tied down by the games that are played by politicians in the arena of spirituality and religion. Let us humbly take up our Cross in the midst of the political divide and pursue the love of God and the love his people as Christ commanded us to do.  
(A version of this was originally written for The Reflector newspaper in May of 2011) 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Left Behind Series May Be Wrong – But the Rapture Still Exists

There have been a lot of warranted theological disagreements with recent release of another Left Behind movie. However some of these these disagreements have led people to conclude not only that 1 Thessalonians 4 needs to carefully reexamined from its modern evangelical interpretation, but that the very idea of people being taken away and left behind is wrong. Those who want to ignore a Rapture even existing tend to maintain that Christ’s central purpose for return is only to heal a broken world. While I agree that God will come and bring restorative justice to the whole planet, Matthew 25:41 also declares that “two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” And Revelation 21:8 takes it a step further saying that “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” This is not a pretty picture. I am not pretending to fully understand all that this might mean, but we shouldn't run the other direction and fool ourselves into thinking that Christ’s return is only going to be lollipops and rainbows; because the Bible seems to say otherwise.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Hollywood Actors: A Living Metaphor for Postmodern Pluralism

Often when we examine the life of a hollywood actor we assume their high probability for personal tragedy simply comes with the territory of wealth and celebrity. However, sometimes I think the negative spiral of an actor’s life has more to do with the intrinsic nature of their profession then we often realize.

The hollywood actor is intimately connected to the postmodern concept of fractured worldviews and the idea of play within a pluralized individual autonomy of choice. A well trained actor will assume a new perspective on life with each new role. When an actor performs, their deep devotion to the role is often illumanting but can be dangerous for their personal well being. I question the coincidence of Heath Ledger committing suicide after intricately putting inside himself the deep Nihilism that is at the heart of the Joker.

I think it is due to the very nature of their profession that quality actors often become uneasy with their own personal worldviews. My sense is that with each new role you become less able to ground yourself in a single foundational perspective on life. For some (including myself) this might seem exciting, but I think ultimately it ends in uncertainty and fear.

Interestingly, actors with a fixed worldview tend to play the same type of role. Clint Eastwood is always the tough quiet type, Arnold Schwarzenegger always has a Gun, and Chuck Norris is always well Chuck Norris.  While I am sure we can find examples that fit outside my theory, the analogy generally seems to fit. The more we play with different metanarratives throughout our life, the more uncertain and shaky our world seems to become.

The beauty of this pluralistic life is that we are able to be open to different viewpoints and other ways of living life. The tragedy is often the loss of belonging and foundations for living. Searching for a balance between these two frameworks has often lead me back to my own faith. Christianity declares that objective singular truth chose to enter into the diversity of created human beings. The Word of God remains the Word of God whether it is translated into Greek, Hebrew, or Swahilli. Followers of Christ are being transformed into his image whether we are male or female, Jewish or Chinese. Christianity teaches that diversity and singularity are not so much contrasting as they are paradoxical. We are one in Christ but have individual roles to play. We are different colours in the spectrum of light.  

Sunday, 6 April 2014

My Stance on Gay Marriage and Why I am a Hypocrite

Within the last year I have decided that it is impossible for me to believe that a canonical interpretation of Scripture can support gay marriage. Marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of child bearing is deeply founded in a canonical and traditional theology of the body, ecclesiology, eschatology, and even a general Christological framework as it has been understood throughout Christian and Jewish time and space. Of course our theological understandings and hermeneutics based on cultural change always open us up to rethinking things over time (usually for the purpose of justice and peace), but it has to be grounded in strong Biblical precedent and should be able to show that in the long run it will create more peace and unity in the church and the general human family. What is often downplayed in our society is that personal conviction acted out upon society often creates more harm, division, and violence then it is worth. Of course, there have also been times in history where personal conviction turns into communal conviction, and that, along with strong Biblical precedent for that conviction improves society (abolition of slavery as an example). 

In the case of gay marriage however there is simply not enough canonical evidence or support from the global church to change our understanding of marriage, nor is there as much at stake for LGBTQ couples. As oppressive as marriage inequality is (implicit with it is societal homophobia which often isolates and damages LGBTQ people, particularly in small rural communities), it is not forced labor or sex trafficking children. That being said, within the western world I support civil based unions/marriages with their central values being monogamy, fidelity, and mutual love. Within this generalized view of marriage, western culture is able counteract individual inequality. From a Christian perspective however this cultural definition is simply too much of an alteration from the traditional Christian and Jewish understandings and in the long run will do more harm than good if it continues to be forcibly globalized (or at least strongly encouraged with sanctions for those countries who refuse to oblige. See “Global Culture Wars” by R.R. Reno, First Things April 2014). What has happened in the past few weeks with World Vision is a great example of the harm that can come from forcing a large majority of people into a different value system they are not comfortable with (regardless of whether their response was right or wrong).
      Holding to this stance also makes me a bit of a hypocrite. As someone who has recently become engaged, forming a biological lineage for God’s glory is often the last thing on my mind. I am in love with my future wife, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. She is the one I ache to be with, and desire to share my thoughts and space with more than anyone else. She is my best friend, my confidant, and the object of my lust. From a Christian perspective this has only limited relevance to what marriage is about. Occasionally I look into her eyes and perceive a future matriarch who has both the strength and wisdom to lead our children and grandchildren into their own maturation. But this is often an afterthought.       
    It is in these moments where I think about how difficult it must to be an LGTBQ person trying to live the traditional Christian life. Our culture inundates us with what a good life must be. A happy life is a life where finding romantic love and sexual fulfillment are a must have.  Leading a life of celibacy is foolishness, and marriage for the central purpose of procreation is not even on the radar. Marriage, even for the general purpose of forming a better world is barely even on the radar!

We have narrowed the purpose of life down to individual relationality, with very little focus on the greater good of a society.

We boast in the glory and goodness of human rights, yet ignore what it means to have a responsibility to our family and the formation of our Children (traditionally this is why marriage has offered tax breaks).  As long as all civil services are generically equal and you don’t directly harm or infringe upon anyone else you are free to do whatever you want. As someone who has been heavily influenced by modern values I cringe when I think of the unfair advantage that comes from being a heterosexual male. From the Christian perspective I am allowed to be married for the purpose of procreation, while someone from the LGBTQ community is called to live a life of celibacy. My wife will have to bear our children, while at the biological level I am simply called to provide the sperm. These realities seem to be extraordinarily unfair, yet this is the life we are called to as Christians.

The life of Christ seems to only further support a certain level of submission to forces of inequality. Throughout the New Testament we see a calling to take up our cross and imitate Christ’s suffering despite the reality of inequality in the world. 1 Peter 2:18 calls for those in slavery to “submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” As oppression becomes increasingly more implicit within western society, and the insidious ideology of self-autonomy continues to pervade, the Christian tension between submitting to what God’s  Word has to say on the nature of the world, and working to provide individual compassion and care will only increase.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Learning to Submit to Authority While Remaining Honest About Injustice

                In Ephraim Radner’s book Hope Among The Fragments he suggests that the Donatists “saw the practices of the Christian Church as corrupted and corrupting because of the sinful character of particular priests and lay people who might participate in them,” while “Augustine insisted that Christ’s sanctifying work in baptism and ordination, in particular, was effective over and beyond whatever sullying secrets were harbored by Church members who might participate in these rites. Since God alone effected his plan for the Church through these rites, the disposition of human participants was not determinative of their value for the Church (or world) as a whole” (Hope Among The Fragments, Ephraim Radner, 153).  
                 On one level Augustine is right. The work of the Holy Spirit will continue to move throughout history regardless of how sinful people attempt to pervert God's Work. But this is not simply a debate about the importance of human righteousness vs. Divine Providence. The Donatists were Christians before Rome had become a Christian state and they were economically oppressed as Christians by Rome. Now this same “Christian” Empire, was trying to tell them that they are no longer the real Christians. In fact with Augustine’s newly minted Just War Theory, they would be violently oppressed as heretics (The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzalez, 176-179). This is the danger of our conformity to power and authority; all too often it produces numbness to injustice. Yet standing up for our individual convictions in defiance of our leaders often undermines the common good of a society or religious community, and only further creates more division and injustice.

    How then are we to act in the midst of this dilemma? Scripture calls us to submit to the authorities in our lives even as we look for opportunities to communally push our leaders toward a greater good. 1 Peter 2 tells us that as “slaves, in reverent fear of God” we are called to submit ourselves to our “masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who treat you unjustly” (2:18-20). Jesus suffered patiently, “ giving us an example to follow in his footsteps; he does not lash back, he does not resist, he trusts only in God’s judgment” (1 Peter 2:21-25). The leaders of the church are called to be “willing examples of Christ’s sufferings for their flock,” while “others in the church are to be subject to the elders themselves” (1 Peter 5:1-5).
Learning how to leave room for a Prophetic Imagination within this hierarchical based church structure is the central question on my mind these days. How are we to imitate a Christ who eats with, washes the feet of, and maintains Judas’ place as an Apostle (even as Christ knows what Judas intends to do), but also calls out corrupt religious leaders as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33)?

Friday, 20 December 2013

Pain and Promise: Thoughts on Historical and Figural Interpretation

                The misuse of Scripture by the historical critical perspective has been well documented. Whether it is the silliness of the Jesus Seminar, or trying to prove that Adam and Eve once existed as historical people, these interpretive experiments have often been adventures in missing the point of the canonical Scripture. The central interpretive purpose of the Christian church should be to see Jesus Christ as the “golden thread which runs through the whole of the Scripture” (Gertrude Hove). 

For theologian Ephraim Radner this implies a “deliberate setting aside of certain historical presumptions” for the sake of seeing Jesus Christ in the text. When parts of a text identify characteristics of Jesus, we are called to see the text as a description of Jesus Christ. When a texts’ “narrative whole resonates with the grande themes of Jesus own life” we are called to see Jesus Christ. This way of thinking about Scripture rests on the presupposition that God is ordering “the Bible according to his own creation and recreation of human history” (Hope Among The Fragments, 98-99). It should show us that Christ’s suffering, his broken body, is calling us to suffer for one another as his Church (Colossians 1:24). 

In our modern context the problem that sometimes occurs with this Christological reading of Scripture is that we jump straight to our new life in Christ without recognizes the reality of suffering that still exists in a world that is not yet. We assume that reading Christ into the whole of the Scripture means that we can ignore the pain and brokenness of a Hebrew people, and say “well things were pretty bad before Jesus, but now that we have been made new we don’t have to worry about that anymore.” We assume that because were in Christ things will be so much better, thing will be so much happier, everything will be “so radically new” as Brian Walsh poignantly suggests in his most recent Advent blog post.

 A lot of this is due to the influence of the “principalities and powers” that surround us. The empire wants to numb us so we don’t feel the pain of our own lives, and the lives of those around us (so will continue to operate without question in the system it has designed). This is where a historical look at Scripture can reveal the pain of the people in that text, and relay to us our own pain that we so much want to resist. In Walter Brueggeman’s “Unity and Dynamic in Isaiah” he critiques the father of modern canonical interpretation Brevard Child’s for jumping to quickly from the Judgment of early Isaiah to the promises of God in later Isaiah. For Brueggeman the Judgment or social critique of early Isaiah leaves room for an embrace of pain in the middle of the book and slow movement toward God’s promises. Child’s is moving too quickly from the old to the new without recognizing the pain that is involved. It is here where a historical look at the people in Scripture can keep us in the reality of our brokenness as we “wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). While Radner sees the over emphasis of historical critical tools as “an almost gnostic yearning for release from a world that is to be cut loose from God” (Hope Among The Fragments, 108) Walsh and Brueggeman see an overly spiritualized view of Scripture as its own gnostic denial of pain in the Christian life.            

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Stephen Harper is not the Problem; You Are

I have to admit I am getting a little sick and tired of quasi-marxist Christians demanding a radical shift in the global economic system, when positive change is more likely to occur from compromise, negotiation, and relationship. The reality is that Saint Paul likely sold his tents for.....wait for, Jesus Christ likely sold his furniture, and Lydia sold her purple clothe. They operated within a market driven model. This wasn't compromising Jubilee or the early Christian model of giving to one another “as they had need” (Acts 2:45, 4:32-35) it was choosing to operate in the world they lived. It was choosing to exist as Christians between the now and the not yet. It seems so often people want to operate out of a black and white moral compass regardless of their political or theological worldview. Calgarians are the conservative Christians who even entertain parties like the Wild Rose, yet their Mayor is Naheed Nenshi. People from Toronto are the progressive liberals, yet they elect Rob Ford. Maybe the reality is that people are more willing to entertain different political and religious systems if they perceive them as coherent to their context and social need. My Dad is a small-c conservative Christian who voted for the Green party in the last federal election. He votes Wild Rose provincially. He didn't do it because he was blinded but God himself on the road to Damascus, he did it because Elizabeth May had the most fiscally responsible budget model, aside from an obviously corrupt and manipulative Stephen Harper. We don't have to operate as black and white ideologues to enable change, we need to listen to each other and be willing to compromise. This is true courage. I long for the day when Jubilee is enacted by God himself, but until that day comes we need patiently and relationally promote Kingdom values even as we choose to work within our social and economic context.